Thursday, February 26, 2015

Valentine's day cakes 2 kinds バレンタインケーキ 二種類

Valentine's day appears to have a different take in Japan (women giving chocolate to men and men's popularity being measured by the number of chocolates he collects. It appears to be the chocolate companies' conspiracy). My wife and I have memories of Valentine's day that goes back many, many years. Following the U.S. tradition, I bought my then girlfriend (now my wife) See's candies in a heart-shaped box. It was our first date—I took her out to dinner at, of all things, a Japanese restaurant. In return, she gave me a set of "red" glass tumblers ( I'm not sure about her choice of Valentine's day gift. We found that any drink served in the red tumblers was tinged red and somehow did not look appetizing. The red tumblers became a yearly source of mirth (Valentine’s day) for years to come. They disappeared for a long time and I dared to hope they had been thrown out accidently in one of our clean outs of old stuff. But they mysteriously reappeared recently uncovered unexpectedly, to my wife’s delight, in an old box of dishes.

This year, instead of going out for dinner on Valentine's day, we decided to cook live Maine Lobsters.  My wife made two similar but different Valentine cakes

1. Ricotta-filled Valentine's day "Wacky" cake:

She put on Maraschino cherry which looks like a red heart.

The ricotta filling on cut surface.

She also made a larger version in heart-shaped baking pan but this heart appears to be "burnt" on the edges (Maybe the recipe should call for and anti acid for the heart burn!).

2. "Wacky" cake with cream cheese glaze.

She made a regular cup cake size (below) and

miniature size (below).

I tasted all except for the large heart-shaped ones (before dinner). All are good. The "Wacky" cake is moist and chocolaty. Between the two filling/glazes, I liked the Ricotta filling the best. I asked my wife to provide the recipe.

Wacky Cake:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
2/3 cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbs. vinegar
2/3 cup oil
2 cups water

I initially thought this was a Pennsylvania Dutch recipe but have subsequently found it on the internet. I thought it was called wacky cake because of the way it is made. In the Pa Dutch recipe you mix the flour, soda, salt, sugar and cocoa powder in the pan in which the cake is going to be baked. Then you make 3 holes in the dry mixture. the vanilla goes in one, the vinegar in another, and the oil in the third. Then the water is poured over everything and the batter is briefly mixed until smooth. The cake is then put in a 350 degree oven in the pan in which it was mixed. For this recipe however, I mixed the dry ingredients in a bowl, and the wet ingredients in another bowl. Then mixed them together until smooth. I made two batches of cake; one for the ricotta filling and one for the cream cheese filling.

Riccota filling
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
I mixed all the ingredients until smooth.
Cream cheese filling
2/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
16 oz. cream cheese
Mix all ingredients until smooth.

Assembly: I prepared a number of containers (heart shaped pan, small cupcake pan and large cup cake pan) by greasing each with Pam. I used an ice cream scoop to fill the pans. I then topped the cake mixture with the cream cheese or ricotta filling. Some I topped with maraschino cherries. I baked them in a 350 degree over for 15 to 20 minutes for the cup cakes and almost an hour for the heart shaped cake. 

Wacky cake is amazing. It is so simple to make but is one of the best tasting cakes. It is moist and chocolaty. It holds up well; not getting dry even after several days in the fridge. This resulted in a lot of cupcakes but I have no fear they will disappear quickly.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Poke made from Tuna from Lobsters New England マグロのポケ

Here is another appetizer threesome I made from whatever we had in the fridge one evening. At least, one is sort of new warranting this post. From left to right, tuna poke まぐろのポケ, grilled trout and cucumber mizore-ae 焼き鱒とキュウリのみぞれ和え, and mozuku in sweet vinegar with onsen tamago モズクの甘酢温泉卵乗せ.

The below is my version of a famous Hawaiian "ceviche" called "poke".  I made this because when we ordered live lobsters from Lobsters New England for Valentine's day dinner, I saw tuna (big eye tuna from the East Coast, according to the web site) which was supposedly "Sushi"grade. When we received it, the cut was very similar to what we get from Catalina Offshore products (skin and a portion of dark red meat called "chiai" 血合 attached). It was, however, more the worse for wear due to it’s trip in the box with the live lobsters. Instead of being wrapped with layers of absorbent paper to prevent it from sitting in whatever oozed out, it was in a plastic bag soaked in a blood tinged liquid. When I opened the package it had a slight fishy smell (not a good sign for “sushi grade”). I decided to do a "Yubiki*" 湯引き process immediately.

*"Yubiki": The "Yubiki" cooks the surface of the block where bacterial growth would be most prominent killing any growth that may have occurred.  I removed the skin, chiai and made two rectangular blocks. I plunged the blocks into boiling water with a splash of sake for 10 seconds and when the surface was all white, I plunged the tuna blocks into ice water ( a mixture of ice cubes and water) to quickly cool it down. After the yubiki, I did not detect any fishy smell indicating the process was probably successful. To determine if the tuna was indeed fresh enough to be eaten in a poke preparation, I shaved off the yubiki surface in thin layers with the underlying raw tuna. I tasted a small portion and decided I could use it to make this poke.

For the tuna poke, I cut the tuna into small cubes, mixed with finely chopped scallion, finely diced cucumber (American mini cucumber), finely chopped garlic, Japanese red pepper powder or ichimi tougarashi 一味唐辛子, soy sauce and a splash of dark roasted sesame oil. I tasted it and the seasoning tasted OK. I added more Japanese red pepper powder on the top before serving. The garlic and sesame oil added a rather assertive flavor but it was good.

The second dish was leftover from the previous weekend when we grilled (hot smoked) rainbow trout on the Weber grill. I removed any small bones and skin and made small chunks. Since I had only a small amount of daikon left, I skinned and grated it to make "daikon oroshi" 大根おろし. I drained off the excess liquid. I also thinly sliced American mini-cucumber, salted it and let it stand for few minutes and squeezed out the excess moisture. I mixed the fish meat, cucumber slices and grated (drained) daikon and dressed with "yuzu shouyu"  柚子醤油 (from the bottle). This dish had a good yuzu flavor and the grated daikon added some heat and tanginess.

This is our favorite way to have an onsen egg. I just thawed some store bought mozuki in sweet vinegar, put it in the bottom of the container and dropped the onsen egg on top.  I made these eggs previously (using a home sous vide machine) and kept them in the refrigerator until I was ready to use them. I garnished with chopped scallion. The custard like consistency of the egg yolk is what is great about this dish.

All of these dishes were perfect with either cold or warm sake.

From this batch of tuna, I also made "Zuke"  漬け. The marinade was a quick one; a mixture of 2:1:1 of soy sauce, mirin, and sake with grated ginger, heated up (to remove the alcohol and meld the flavors), strained and then quickly cooled in an ice bath (after I did the "yubiki" process). The Yubiki tuna was sliced and marinated in a sealable container in the refrigerator for several hours before serving (longer marinating produces a slightly soft sticky consistency or "nettori" ねっとりconsistency, some like that but we do not). I served this with daikon namasu 大根なます(which I made some days ago even though it was past New Year). I placed it on very flavorful baby arugula. With this zuke treatment, the tuna was quite good and we enjoyed it.

Could Lobsters New England be another source of sashimi tuna for us? My answer is "maybe". It appears that the tuna may have been very fresh to start with but perhaps due to subsequent handling this batch needed "Yubiki" before  using it as sashimi. The lobsters, however, were wonderful.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cheese pocket チーズポケット

My wife is now into making food pockets using pie crusts filled with various stuffings. This one is a wonderful appetizer that goes perfectly with wine. She used a store bought refrigerated piecrust (3rd picture, #8) which came out very nicely golden and flakey.

I did not do a good job of taking a picture of the cheese stuffing.

She used the gadget (#1) to make the pockets. For the apple pie, she used one of the largest. For this cheese stuffing, she used a medium size. She first rolled out the pie crust (#2) on the large cutting board but did not further roll it out thin (based on the previous experience. Thin crust tended to crack while baking).

Cheese stuffing: This is a mixture of cheeses;
7 1/2 oz Ricotta cheese
1 egg (She used a fork to beat the egg and used approximately 1/2 in the cheese mixture and the rest as an egg wash to seal the pie dough. you could use the yolk in the cheese mixture and the white for the egg wash.)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup Feta cheese
1/4 cup smoked mozzarella cheese
One small onion finely diced and caramelized
1/8 cup parsley finely chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Basically just mix all the ingredients until homogenized and blended.

cheese pocket composit

The bottom of the mold is a cutter, so she cut out the perfect round of the pie crust and stuffed it with the cheese mixture using a small ice cream scoop (#3). She brushed the perimeter of the crust with egg water (one beaten egg and 2 tbs of water) (#4 and 5) then closed and pressed (#6) producing a perfect filled pocket (#7).  The secret is not to overfill (which she did several times; its hard not to because you want to pack as much of the goodness of the filling into the pocket as possible). She cooked them on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the crust turned a golden brown.

This made a very nice savory cheesy appetizer encased in a buttery flakey crust as a starter with red wine. All the cheeses make a complex flavor with a slight zing from the pepper flakes. The caramelized onions really add to the dish. This is a great and elegant appetizer for guests. It’s very hard to eat just one.  The leftovers heat up nicely in the toaster oven.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Apple pie アップルパイ

My wife found a gadget to make "pockets" in one of the catalogs as well as an accompanying cookbook and bought them. She immediately went into action to make apple pie.
She made it two ways. First she used store bought puff pastry (frozen) shown directly below.

She even put a small decoration on the top.

The crust puffed up nicely slightly squeezing the apple stuffing.

Secondly she used refrigerated pre-made pie crust. The recipe suggests either type of pie crust. The one made with pre-made pie crust is shown below.

She rolled out the pie crust rather thinly and cut out the rounds using the back of the gadget which is a cutter. She then sealed in the stuffing using an egg wash.

The below are the cut surfaces, this time, the crust and stuffing is in a good ratio or maybe the crust could have been a bit thicker.

These are very nice small individual apple pies. I asked my wife to provide the recipe below.

I used the same filling for both types of pie. The only difference was the crust.

3 apples peeled, cored and chopped in a food processor
2 tbs of sugar
1 tbs. flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted, brown skins rubbed off, and chopped.
Raisins (I didn’t use them but they would be good)

Mix the sugar, flour and cinnamon together.  Sprinkle over the apples mixture and blend in. (the flour soaks up any juices from the apples and makes a lovely “sauce”). Add the walnuts. Stir. Using a small ice cream scoop add the apple mixture to the crust, fold over and seal with the egg wash. Cook according to the instructions for the pie crust. I used 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes until the crust was golden brown.

These were great. The apples were flavorful and the walnuts added interesting texture to the filling. Both types of crust were buttery and flaky.  I froze the ones made with pie crust and they heat up well in the toaster oven. (The ones made with puff pastry didn’t last long enough to be frozen). Chopping up the apples meant that the filling was fully cooked in the short time it takes for the crusts to turn golden. These would make a very elegant dessert for guests.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mac and Cheese version 2 マック アンド チーズ 第二弾

This is a variation on "Mac and Cheese". I saw this recipe in the NY times and mentioned it to my wife which was a mistake. Being a devotee of mac and cheese, she immediately wanted me to make it. The amount of cheese included in this recipe is a bit intimidating (a lot) but un-cooked macaroni goes in with the sauce and then the whole thing is baked, which makes it much easier to cook than my variation of mac and cheese.

The picture below shows what it looks like when it came out of the oven (this is a 7 inch diameter rather deep baking dish).

It is very cheesy but not as creamy as we expected. We may have over cooked it a bit, or maybe it needed some more milk.

This is very good but my original Mac and Cheese may be better (and probably less deadly). But adjusting the cooking time and amount of milk, this may really work. The recipe below is just replicated from the original recipe in the NY times. This is just for our record, please refer to the original for details and accuracy.

Butter 2 tbs
Cottage cheese 1 cup
Milk 2 cups (or maybe more to achieve the desired texture)
Dry mustard 1 tsp
Cayenne pepper a pinch
Nutmeg, freshly grated a pinch
Salt 1/2 tsp
Black pepper, freshly ground 1/4 tsp
Sharp Cheddar Cheese 1lb (set aside 1/4 cup for the topping).
Elbow pasta, dry, 1/2 lb

Preheat the oven to 375F. Using half of the butter, butter the baking dish (the original recipe called for a 9 inch diameter, ours was a bit smaller and deeper but we had to put the overflow into another smaller ramekin).

Puree the cottage cheese, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, salt, black pepper and milk in a blender. Mix the pureed milk-cheese mixture to the grated cheddar cheese and then mix in uncooked dry elbow pasta.

Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Uncover, stir, top it with the reaming cheese, dot with the 1tbs of butter (at this point, the mixture is still very liquid) and bake another 15 minutes. Let it stand for 15 minutes before serving.

This is very easy to prepare and really cheesy but was not as creamy as we expected. Also the leftovers solidified into an almost solid block of cheesy pasta that we had to slice with a knife. We also had to add a lot of milk to reheat the block we sliced to have it separate into its component parts. Not bad for a quick mac and cheese fix.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Carpaccio of octopus タコのカルパチオ

Having bought a 2 lb whole boiled and frozen octopus (which is a small octopus) from Fish-For-Sushi in preparation for the New Year,  I had to make some effort to finish it before it went bad. We had dinner guests a few days before new year. Although they were not known to enjoy an octopus, I decided to take a chance and serve Carpaccio of octopus.

When I made salmon gravlax,  I bought navel oranges which turned out to be very sweet and juicy—the best oranges we have had for some time. So I decided to use the orange fruit as well as a bit of it's juice.

Ingredients (for 4 servings):
Sweet onion: one medium, thinly sliced in rings using a Japanese Mandoline (Benriner)
Boiled octopus legs: 2 thinly sliced on bias.
Navel orange: one large, fruit separated from membrane and cut into small chunks
Watercress: remove thick stalks

Olive oil: Good fruity extra-virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar: Aged sweet syrupy one
Salt and pepper (I used smoked sea salt).

In a small serving dish, I freshly cracked some smoked sea salt. Then, I drizzled on lines of olive oil. I repeated the process this time with balsamic vinegar which I drizzled in lines perpendicular to the ones I made with the olive oil to form an olive oil, balsamic vinegar grid on the plate. I then scattered thinly sliced onion. I placed the slices of the octopus to cover the entire center portion of the plate. I added the orange chunks, more slices of onion, and then the watercress. I drizzled lines of olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the top, and sprinkled on the juice of the orange, salt and pepper.

This was a great hit. Our guests had never had octopus before. They guessed that the octopus was a “protein” but did not know what it was. We had this with champagne.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Grilled cheese Mochi rice cake 焼きチーズ餅

As a Japanese, I have to have mochi rice cakes 餅 on the new year. But, as is the case with many modern families in Japan, we only eat a small portion of the mochi we buy for the holiday. It is a “must have” for the Ozouni お雑煮 New Year's soup and we used it several times in oden おでん but we have mochi leftover even though we bought a smallest package (containing 10-15 mochi squares wrapped individually).

As a result, many Japanese on-line cooking sites have recipes for left over mochi. This recipe for grilled cheese mochi looked really interesting and I decided to make it for lunch. The great idea of this recipe is that, on one side, the cheese is melted and browned and on the other side, slightly melted, thus, you can enjoy two different cheeses.

To make this, I started cooking the mochi in a frying pan with a small amount of olive oil on low flame turning several times (for about 5 minutes) until the mochi soften and puff up slightly. I put the cheese slices on top (I used applewood smoked mozzarella cheese). When the cheese softened, I flipped the mochi over and placed another slice of cheese on the other side (now on the top). I let it cook until the bottom layer of the cheese melted, spread out a little and started browning. At the very end, I added a tiny amount of soy sauce. I placed the grilled cheese mochi on a small sheet of nori dried seaweed (above picture). When we made this the second time and I served it on a much larger nori sheet.

Since we had the leftover from new year's dishes, I also served some.

From left, daikon namasu garnished with ikura salmon roe, thinly sliced boiled octopus, kimpira burdock root, simmered Kabocha pumpkin, kelp salmon roll and New Year's omelet roll.

The combination of browned and soft cheeses, starch, soy sauce and nori cannot go wrong. This is a wonderful recipe and we will be consuming more mochi than ever this year. .

Thursday, February 5, 2015

“Fearsome” sanuki-udon noodle 恐るべきさぬきうどん

Some people are truly dedicated to noodles (soba, udon and ramen). "Sanuki 讃岐" is an area in kagawa prefecture 香川県 on shikoku island 四国.  It is famous for its udon noodle which is called "Sanuki Udon 讃岐うどん".  There are many udon restaurants in this region of Sanuki and touring around these places appears to be popular among the dedicated. We like udon (but we are far from being udon connoisseurs) and often substitute it in western dishes for spaghetti.  We usually buy dried udon noodles (many of them are labeled "sanuki" udon). One day, when I was looking at dried udon noodles at the Japanese grocery store, I saw a package of semi dry udon noodle called "Fearsome" sanumi udon 恐るべきさぬきうどん. I was a bit curious as to what this was all about and got a package. 

I made this warm udon in broth or Kakeudon かけうどん  with a slice of barbecued pork, abura-age deep fried tofu and shimeji mushroom.

I also served my simmered "Kabocha" pumpkin.

The picture below shows a package of  "Fearsome" sanuki udon 恐るべきさぬきうどん.

The noodles are semi-dried and much longer (folded in half) and slightly thicker than the usual dried varieties. It takes a bit longer to cook as well. I cooked it as per the package instructions, washed it in cold running water and placed it in a broth on simmer. The noodle has a bit more bite or firmness in the center than regular noodles. It is good but we are not sure if it is worthwhile to specifically buy this kind.

I used the noodles another time to make "Nabeyaki" udon 鍋焼きうどん. Since I had mochi 餅 left over from New Year, I also added mochi in a fried tofu pouch as well as simmered vegetables (daikon 大根, carrott, kon-nyaku コンニャク、all pre-cooked in a seasoned broth). I also added an egg and scallions.

Just before serving, I removed the tooth pick and cut the mochi in the pouch.

In this dish, I cooked the noodles with the other precooked items and the egg for 5 minutes. The noodles stayed rather firm in the center. These semi-dried udon noodles are good but since we are not dedicated connoisseurs of udon, the differences between this and the usual kind is not great enough to seek out this particular kind.

Digression alert: I later learned that "Osorubeki sanuki udon" 恐るべきさぬきうどん is the name of a column that appeared in a local magazine in Kagawa. The entire series of columns were published as multiple books by Kazutoshi Tao (田尾和俊). These book are a detailed guide of large and small udon noodle places in Kagawa which was said to have popularized udon tourism and restaurant tours. This particular noodle producer must be one of these udon places and must have somehow gotten the right to use this name.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Fried cheese curds 揚げチーズカード

My wife somehow got into making fresh cheese curds. She started this when she made an Indian style spinach curry with cheese curds. We are looking for new ways to serve them. From watching TV food shows, we learned about fried cheese curds. They appear to be specially famous and popular at county fairs in Wisconsin. Although the ones in Wisconsin are "cheddar cheese curds" and are yellow, my wife's are white in color. (I am not sure what the differences is but cheddar cheese curds appear to go through the "cheddaring process" which includes the addition of plant extracts such as annatto seeds which give the curd an orange-yellow color). In any case, regardless of what kind of cheese curds are used, breading and frying a cheese product cannot go wrong. I am sure this is not authentic Wisconsin but it was sure good enough for us.

The cheese curds do not melt, although they do get soft; nice crunchy outside and soft inside.

There appears to be several variations, some use beer and others use baking powder for leavening.  I chose one without beer.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs beaten
1/2 milk

This is the original amount for 1 lb of cheese curds.  I made only 8 small cubes as a trial.
I halved the recipe but there was still too much batter for the amount I made.

Instead of deep frying, I use "shallow" frying.

After the surface became nicely golden, I drained them on a paper towel.

We also tried our own style of fried curds. We just coated the curds with the mixture of flour and curry powder like our baked chicken wings.

This time, I used much less oil and turned it frequently so all the surfaces browned.

This was pretty good with crunchy crust but not too oily and easier to make. We tried this without the flour coating and the curd stuck to the bottom of the pan. We will use the flour coating method make this our own fried cheese curds in the future.